Thursday, April 14, 2016

Running GURPS more Narratively

If you want to have less rolls, or probably no rolls as a GM in GURPS here are my notes.

One roll per Player Scene.
This is the design principle behind Dungeon World (and the Apocalypse Engine). If you want this in your GURPS game despite how heretical it may be then you're not alone and there is a way to do it.

Player Scene is a Sub-scene. A scene can be made up of a Player Scenes, an Encounter can be considered as Scene. A Combat Scene or Social Scene can be made up of all the players having their own scenes as the GM resolves it with everyone's participation.

This rule works in tandem of One Spotlight per Player rule. This rule prevents players having more spotlight than other players because of how the circumstance works out - they split up, a PC has more actions, a player has more Characters or can act through henchmen or allies.

exception: Damage rolls, Saves that limits the effect (but not eliminates it), and similar rolls are not part of this rule.

Player Buy-in of this System Adjustments
Of course before you set about this method, you may need to show this post or tell your players that you adhere to the One Roll per Player Scene. Point out that in such a rule you won't see the GM fumbling with a bunch of NPC rolls or bean counting modifiers.

Non-Binary Consequences (NBC)
You will need Non-Binary Consequences if you are going to just have One roll per Player Scene. For GURPS my mechanic for NBC, succeed at the cost of Margin of Failure. Using the Margin of Failure as the penalty on the PC or Margin/Severity of an effect.

So if the PC failed in his Player Scene he can choose to Succeed at a cost. Because the GM doesnt roll this cost cannot be something that requires the GM to roll to take affect and it needs to Last for the scene unless the PC intentionally does something to undo the effect!

A PC failed to attack by a margin of 4, he can choose: 

  • take +4 plus the damage from an enemies attack. 
  • be -4 to all his active rolls (saves and checks wont be  for the duration the entire scene or encounter (until he does something to .  

my notes on non-Binary Consequences. This may aid in more examples or use the Margin of Failure to push the "Cost" or penalty the PC suffers to the worse consequence rolled here. If you choose to use NBC table this is definitely an exception to the "one roll per player scene".

Because of NBC there are more difficult rolls. The GM would calibrate the adventure by looking at the circumstances and how the adventure tends to flow and see how uncertain it can be. Seeing how often the PCs Fail, Succeed at a Cost, or Succeed.

Task Difficulty Modifiers (TDM).
see Colin's Simplifying with Task Difficulty modifiers

Basically, just use TDMs and avoid #deathbymodifiers. I've migrated to this school of thought not just out of design reasons but because of recent understanding of statistical fallacies from Daniel Khaneman's Thinking Fast and Slow - on the role of circumstance and success, Fallacy of the Single Cause, and from my wife's one financial studies that point out small business success (an analogy for complex and risky undertakings) are heavily influenced by the Economic cycles and circumstance than by the key decision maker. And if that's not enough my re-reading of Thomas Clearly's more Taoist take on The Art of War.

So you will use TDM a lot when you GM this way. The only exception to this is if you use BAD (see below).

Basic Abstract Difficulty (BAD).

see Douglas Cole's GURPS Action: Exploits
Its weird that I would recommend BAD but what if you don't have GURPS Action: Exploits (GAE)? Its ok BAD is just TDM with more guidelines (honestly I believe that GAE is a must - at a level that I think a lot of basic should have been eschewed for GAE and it would have made a better product). Considering that I'm trying to bring down the complexity barrier of GURPS I can say that the only take away for BAD is an "official" authoritative option to use the score of an opposing agent (by agent I mean character with agency) as a modifier to the roll instead of making a contested roll.

Roll vs Situation
So if you have TDM and believe that the strongest agent has a small effect on the circumstance modify that TDM by 1 (up or down) only if the agent is an expert or unskilled.

Example. (Roll vs Situation)
The PC is fighting a two warriors by himself, lead by an poor tactician. In such conditions the PC may have a TDM of -4 but being lead by poor leader (maybe his impetuous, doesn't coordinate, etc...) the TDM the PC rolls in is -3. 

Roll vs Agent
But if the situation is an agent (like direct contest) then the TDM is the difference of the opposing agent's skill minus 10.

Example 2. (Roll vs Agent)
PC against another Agent, then the Agent's skill level less 10 becomes the TDM. If the Agent is an expert at 14 then the PC has a TDM of -4, if the Agent is a novice then the TDM is +2 to the player. 

Don't mix the "Roll vs Agent" and vs "Roll vs Situation".

This is an anchoring guideline for TDM. Superiority is when there is more resources, agents, time, etc... superiority relative to the other party. If the PC is fighting a Group of opponents, take a note from GURPS Mass Combat in odds. If you don't  have Gurps Mass Combat use this simple heuristics for Superiority:
  • 1.5 to 1: TDM by 2 (a bonus if the PCs is the superior side, a penalty if the PC is the disadvantaged side).
  • 2 to 1: TDM by 4
  • every 1.5x increase of the multiple of superiority increase the TDM by 2. (ex. 3 to 1, 5 to 1, 7 to 1). So 10 to 1 is TDM 12.

The PC's team is having a political battle of reputation attrition. He's at a disadvantage in resources the GM calls to be a 1.5 vs 1 odds the PC works with a -2 penalty. 
The PC is arguing against 3 people in a forum, the GM says the "lead" agent being heavily conflicted to put up a good argument the GM can call it to be -4 TDM but less 1 because of the lead agent's hampering their efforts. 

notes on superiority.

  • Workstreams  is another example of resources that may apply in superiority. This heuristic is a helpful simplification in the real world and games. 
  • Man-Month Myth - some complex activities like knowledge work  that cannot get any benefit from man-power. It can probably be nudged a bit in exceptional circumstances (a Team of Experts - like the Party; On the winter equinox or special event; somehow finding more time, knowledge, and better communication medium - like telepathy). 

This means using language to be more broad, then move towards specific only as needed and being more open to Yes& (i would like to link to this but there is so many good ideas surrounding this and I can't remember distinctly the sources anymore).

The GM may make use "Tags" or Aspects, as part of his description and details he will be using. Using this will make his job easier but will entail learning another technique like Zones. Fortunately this is Creative Commons and an Open Technique.

Conclusion: How this comes together
This alters the GMing buy taking a systematic broad to specific approach to describing details in a scene. He then works one Player scene at a time. The goal is to spend more time Elaborating the Scene and working out the details instead of stopping to roll every detail to be interpreted. To let the players have more influence in the story there are intentional vagueries so that he can add his own details and touches of the scenes.

It boils down to the GM making every Player scene an opportunity to make Significant Actions (which will be covered in Part 2).

To be Continued.

  • Initiative 
  • First Move or Last Word
  • Significant Actions
  • Terrain and Conditions
Ideas for Anki Cards
  • One Roll per Player Scene
  • Non-Binary Consequences (NBC)
    • Success at a Cost
  • Task Difficulty Modifier (TDM)
    • Agent
    • Basic Abstract Difficulty (BAD)
    • vs Agent
    • vs Situation
    • Superiority 
  • Specificity
  • Zones
  • Aspects 

Running GURPS more Narratively Part 2
Running GURPS more Narratively Part 3

Index Card Heuristic (to simplify and organize concepts)
Cards as an Organizating Mnemonic
Mike Shae's Using Fate Style Zones

GMing Abstract Combat:
Part 1: Thinking in Opportunities
Part 2: Economies of Attention
Part 3: Initiative and for the Non-Combat GM

GURPS Action Exploits

Dungeon World SRD
see GMing Page for my ongoing list of GMing Skills and Policies

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